Friday, November 9, 2012

Midsize law firms cautiously optimistic about future

In contrast to a recent survey of BigLaw firms that are reporting flat growth, midsize firms (those with fewer than 400 lawyers) are cautiously optimistic the future according to a survey conducted by the National Law Journal:

Managing partners at midsize law firms across the country report guarded optimism about business during the year to come.

The results of a survey The National Law Journal sent to leaders at firms with fewer than 400 attorneys showed that most firms of that size planned to add lawyers—although not many—to their practices. They also expected higher profits per partner.

The responses came from 26 midsize law firms, 17 of which employed between 100 and 199 lawyers. The firms were based in major cities in the East Coast, West Coast, Midwest and Southwest.

Half of the firm leaders expected litigation to provide the most revenue growth, and 19 of the firms planned to add lateral attorneys in that area. Corporate work was the second-most cited growth practice, with four firms expecting increased revenue there and 16 planning to add laterals. Fifteen of the 26 firms said they expected deal flow to increase moderately; 10 expected it to remain flat.

Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Mitchell attorney Stan Gibson echoed the expectations regarding litigation. He said that Jeffer Mangels, which is based in Los Angeles with 125 lawyers, saw patent litigation double this year. "Large companies have realized they can get first-rate service and big firm legal expertise from midsize firms, without the big firm rates," said Gibson, chairman of the patent litigation practice.

Asked to identify practices facing the biggest challenges next year, 11 firm leaders pointed to real estate and seven to corporate work.

Washington and Los Angeles were targeted for the largest expansions. Only one firm expected to add laterals in New York, and only one to add laterals in Chicago. Fifteen of the 26 firm leaders expected their firm's total headcount to increase by 1 percent to 5 percent. Six anticipated that their firms' headcounts would rise by 6 percent to 10 percent.

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